Sunday, December 09, 2007

For My Women Readers: A Few Words of Wisdom from France

Thanks to all of you who have purchased my new Amazon Short, "How to Get Dressed Without Driving Yourself Crazy." I was delighted to discover that it was ranked Number Four on the "Hot New Releases" list last week.

And thanks to a fashionable friend for sending me a short article from the November issue of Vogue magazine. Mark Holgate wrote "Why Less is More," a rather subversive point of view in a magazine whose remaining ten-thousand pages are devoted to convincing us that we need an entire new wardrobe every season.

The article features a "Paris-born, New York-based stylist" who has a limited wardrobe by current standards (okay, ten pairs of jeans is more than the average woman needs, but this woman is a stylist). When you read the inventory of her closet, the simplicity of her choices is striking. She happens to prefer navy blue and she relies on "natty blazers and skinny jeans and pretty flats," minimal jewelry ("two pendants and a ring that belonged to her mother"), a stack of sweaters and tees, and a couple of "dress-up" outfits. The whole thing sounds fabulous to me. No agonizing over what to wear, no angst about whether or not what she's wearing looks good on her. She can walk out the door feeling confident and just get on with her day.

I believe that the majority of women in our country, and probably most men, would declare that French women are exceptionally fashionable. "Freedom fries" aside, we have always envied this particular characteristic of the French, but we've had not a clue how to replicate their sense of style. A search on Amazon.com will reveal many books that explain the appeal and offer insight about how to achieve that seemingly effortless chic; I can personally recommend Entres Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier, an American who married a Frenchman and was a long-time resident of France. In it you'll find not only a guide to assembling a wardrobe, but also an interesting glimpse into the cultural differences that have a significant impact on the the way a French woman relates to her world.

Regarding fashion, Ollivier explains, "For the French girl, clothes are a language, a personal vernacular. She doesn't dress to the trend, she dresses to her strengths and bends the trend (if it interests her) only to complement those strengths." She also often has to cope with only an armoire to store her clothes rather than a gigantic American-style walk-in closet.

The French have a useful perspective on clutter, too. Referring to author Marguerite Duras, Ollivier says, "To Duras there was charm and there was clutter. Charm represented the little details that reflected the character of the people who lived in a home. Clutter, on the other hand, is a helpless, hopeless, giving over to disorder . . . . The trick is to see the difference . . . . charm reflects your history, your affinities; clutter does not."

Obviously, not every French woman is possessed of the timeless style of Catherine Deneuve or gamine appeal of Audrey Tautou, and I suspect that there are more than a few cluttered homes lurking behind closed doors in France. But there is something we can learn from the basic French fashion philosophy: fewer, but well-chosen, high-quality wardrobe items and decor are what create style; quantity is essentially meaningless.

In fact, excessive quantity can destroy any sense of style. Too many choices in a wardrobe often result in errors and too much stuff in a home always results in chaotic disaster. We can't even hope to discover our personal style amidst the confusion of too much stuff.

So, how stylish are you feeling right now?

I'm thinking it might be a good idea to go through my closet one more time . . .

© 2007 Cynthia Friedlob

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